During the 2006-2012 federal administration, it was possible to map the incidence of crime across the country, with data readily available at both the state and the municipal level. The current administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto has diverted press attention away from the drugs-related violence, arguing that press coverage only serves to give more publicity to the bad guys. Unfortunately, that decision means that it has now become next to impossible to get regularly updated data for, or be able to map, the patterns of criminal activity.
This is one of the inevitable caveats that limits the future application of the ground-breaking methods (using data from 2007 to 2011), developed by Jesús Espinal, a quantitative analyst at the National Institute of Genomic Medicine in Mexico City,and Hernán Larralde, statistical physicist at the National University (UNAM). Their work is described in “Mapping Mexico’s deadly drug war“, in Science magazine.
Essentially, they took official data for the location and date of all drug-related homicides in Mexico. They built a complex month-by-month network looking for temporal correlations in the homicide numbers between different cities. “If cities shared a death rate higher than 70 casualties per 100,000 inhabitants in a year and were less than 200 kilometers apart, Larralde and Espinal linked them together on their map to tease out broader geographical patterns.”
The results (summarized by the maps) are interesting. They show the rapid spatial spread of violence during the administration of Felipe Calderón as his government waged its war on drug cartels. The map for 2011 suggests that violence may have been finally becoming less widespread and becoming more focused on a relatively limited number of places.
Two major points are worth emphasizing. First (and as we have repeatedly pointed out in previous posts on this subject), the incidence of violent crime, including homicides, is certainly not similar across the entire country. Some states have much higher homicide rates than others; some municipalities have much higher rates than others. Some parts of the country, including several important tourist areas, have witnessed little or no drug-related violence.
Second, there is no evidence that the spread of violence between 2007 and 2011 occurred by continuous “contagious” diffusion (i.e. that it gradually spread from a single central point or a limited number of central points). The work of these authors supports the contention that the drugs-related activity in Mexico could, and did, increase simultaneously in cities far apart. This is only suggesting a coincidence in timing, and is certainly not proof of any causal connection. A small number of cities, such as Ciudad Juárez, Acapulco, Culiacán, Monterrey, Tampico and
Tijuana, appear as nodes in the network.
This approach may offer some help to policy makers as they consider alternative approaches to combating drugs-related violence, but, as the article makes clear, it does not necessarily mean that the best policy is to attack the cartels in the central hub cities. Aiming at the heart of a major cartel might reduce violence for a time, but could also lead to the formation of numerous smaller splinter groups with different ideals and methods. For example, after the leadership of the Gulf Cartel was dismantled in 2010, the cartel’s former enforcing arm, the Zetas took over, introducing a wave of more extreme violence.
- The geography of Mexico’s drug trade: an index page
- Purity of illicit drugs declines with distance from the Mexico-USA border (Mar 2011)
- Using Google to map areas influenced by drug cartel activity (Nov 2012)
- The pattern of homicides in Mexico in 2012 (Aug 2013)
- Has the homicide rate in Mexico begun to fall? (Aug 2013)
- Mexico’s drug cartels and their areas of operation, a 2014 update (Feb 2014)
- More peaceful, but annual economic impact of violence still over two hundred billion dollars (Apr 2015)